chop chop

This or that critic, as a way of calling a poem basic, often balks at its being “just prose chopped up into lines.” Reader, this statement may sound radical at first, but it couldn’t be more obvious. Poetry is just prose chopped up into lines. I mean this to be final, categorical, and no slight to poetry.

—Elisa Gabbert, “What Poetry Is,” The Word Pretty (Black Ocean, 2018)


name and calling

Until someone else calls you a poet, don’t think of yourself as one.


end happens

The end of a poem happens; you can’t try to explain the end.


questioned line

Interrogate each line you write: Could it be twisted or steered away from common diction?


read it to me

It was a poem I’d rather have read to me than read myself.


what is given and withheld

Within a few lines you know what you’re going to get from the poem, and what will not be disclosed. After that, all there is to do is relax.


discouraging the biographer

Documents relating to Cavafy’s life are scarce. He seldom kept a journal, and very few of his own letters have survived. His life was rather uneventful, and his remarks on his poems are generally unhelpful, while the observations recorded in his sporadic journal entries are seldom of great interest. His poem ‘Hidden’, which he wrote in 1908 but never published, is particularly discouraging for the biographer:

   From what I did and what I said
   let them not seek to find who I was.

—Peter Mackridge, introduction to Robert Liddell’s Cavafy: A Critical Biography (Duckbacks, 1974).


least and slight

He was afraid he’d become one of those poets who could compose something from the least wisp of thought, a slight wind brushing the skin.


why read poetry

Reason #449 to read poetry: Poetry is a repository of knowledge about our world.


two peas

The avant-garde has its own formalism.


start and finish

It was a great first line because of the poem or story that followed.


small step

Poet, all those primers and guidebooks will only take you so far.


sit down and grind

E. A. Robinson: “I don’t have trances, furors or ecstasies. My poetic spells are of the most prosaic sort. I just sit down and grind it out and use a trifle more tobacco than is good for me.”

Quoted in Geoffrey Grigson's The Private Art: A Poetry Note-Book (Allision & Busby, 1982), in the section “Fish Crows and nightingales,” 103.


to stem the tide

Day after day, I will write the same poem in the sand, allowing the tide to erase it. Until I get it right, and then even the tide dare not touch it.



talking to oneself

Some poets eventually talk on and on to themselves.

[Thinking of Ammons’ late books.]


content control

Content is revised by selection and highlight.


annotated copy

How does one make so many thoughtful notes in the margins, mark the key passages, underline so many sentences, and then let the book go, so that it may find its way into my hands.


gross vehicle weight

No line without one weighted word.